5 Reasons to Watch the Blackhawks’ Final Games of 2021-22

The Chicago Blackhawks fell by a score of 4-1 to the Los Angeles Kings in a late Thursday night matchup, culminating in their 11th loss in the last 13 games. Needless to say, things are looking pretty bleak right now in Chicago. The rebuild officially began with the trade deadline on Mar. 21, and we’re getting a glimpse of what the next several seasons will likely look like. Rebuilds are painful, and things could get even worse before they get better. With that said, many fans don’t see a whole lot of reasons to tune in for the remaining games of the 2021-22 campaign.

I get it. I really do.

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But if you’re a diehard fan, you probably still feel the need to turn on the TV for these final games. Because maybe, just maybe, the next one will be a decent game. After all, the offseason awaits, and it’s certainly not fun watching NO hockey. So for those of you who are in it for the long haul, here are five things to keep your interest peaked in the last four games.

The Young Defensive Corps

The Blackhawks have been auditioning A LOT of young defensemen all season long, in an effort to see who they will invest in for the future.

Related – Reflecting of Blackhawks’ Pat Foley & His Broadcasting Career

Ian Mitchell played in eight games with the Blackhawks. He had a three-game stint in September and again in December. He dressed for two games in January before being sent back down to the Rockford IceHogs for good. He’s improved a lot this season, and could potentially make the jump to a regular NHLer next season.

Nicolas Beaudin only got two games, while Wyatt Kalynuk played in five. Then there was Isaak Phillips, who received a three-game stint in late September, as well as one contest in late February. Jakub Galvas got a little bit longer look with six games, three in January and three in February.   

Now, it appears the Blackhawks will finish out the season playing young defensemen Alec Regula and Alex Vlasic. If they do play, Regula will have dressed in 15 games and Vlasic in 16. The point here is that the organization has been evaluating their defensive prospects for a while now, giving them a taste of NHL playing time to see how they respond.

Alex Vlasic Chicago Blackhawks Draft
Alex Vlasic, Chicago Blackhawks, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For the fans, it’s been fun to see Regula and Vlasic’s progression. They both recently secured their first NHL goals, and head coach Derek King is trusting them with more ice time and more valuable game situations. Both are big, talented defensemen that could be a part of the Blackhawks’ future. Let’s see what more these youngsters have to offer in the last four outings. Since these games are essentially meaningless, it’s a great opportunity for them to play hard, learn from their mistakes and develop further.  

Forwards Playing for a Contract

Currently Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach and Philipp Kurashev will be restricted free agents at the end of the season. Sam Lafferty will be an unrestricted free agent. Unfortunately, Dach is injured. But the others are playing for a new contract right now, whether it be with the Blackhawks or elsewhere. This should give them some extra incentive to finish the season strong. It’s something to keep an eye on.

Kubalik has struggled all season, but he has two goals and two assists in the last four games. Kurashev has been the victim of numerous healthy scratches, but due to injuries it appears he’s a lock to play in the final four games. Besides, he sure did look hungry when recently deployed on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Lafferty has become a staple as the third line center, with a lovely combination of grit and skill. Strome, well we’ll get to Strome in a minute.

Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks
Will forward Dominik Kubalik be with the Chicago Blackhawks next season? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But before we move on I’d like to mention two new additions at forward, Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk. Both came to Chicago from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Brandon Hagel trade. And both have impressed in their short stints with the team. On a stacked Lightning team they didn’t have the same kinds of opportunities they will receive with the Blackhawks. I’m sure both are anxious to prove they can be integral pieces in the rebuild.

Goaltending Developments

Let’s face it; it’s been tough since future Hall-of-Fame veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury left the Blackhawks at the trade deadline. But if the organization is fully committed to a rebuild, paying a veteran netminder a sizeable salary doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Since Flower’s departure, the Blackhawks have been evaluating what they have in their other goalies, Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia.

Lankinen is obviously the favorite of the two. He suited up for 37 contests last season along with 29 so far this season, including 10 games since Fleury’s departure. Delia, on the other hand, has gotten the nod for only seven games this season; five since Fleury left.

Kevin Lankinen Chicago Blackhawks
Kevin Lankinen has suited up for most of the Chicago Blackhawks’ games since Marc-Andre Fleury left. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Although, Lankinen hasn’t looked that great. He’s struggled with his rebound control and tracking the puck. He’s let in numerous soft goals, and just doesn’t appear confident. While Lankinen is probably the better goalie of the two, Delia has looked surprisingly solid in his outings.

Related – A Blackhawks’ Tribute to Marc-Andre Fleury

So who will get the net in these remaining games? Both netminders are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Will the Blackhawks want either of them back? It’s an interesting storyline to follow as the season winds down.  

The DeBrincat-Strome-Kane Line

Coach King recently reunited the trio of Alex DeBrincat, Strome and Kane on the top line for the Blackhawks. He separated them a few games in the name of balance, but then gave in to the magic they inevitably create. In the game against the San Jose Sharks on Apr. 14, this line generated three of the four Blackhawks’ goals. Said King after the game,

They were a little dry there when I split them up. I just thought they were kind of cheating the game there a little bit. You know, always looking for each other. Obviously that’s what they do. But I just thought we’d spread the wealth a little bit, but it wasn’t paying off. So, I swallowed my pride and I was like, all right, you guys can go back together. But they were good tonight. That’s what they do, right?

Kane added his two cents as well.

But here’s the thing. Will this line have the chance to be effective in the future? Who knows what the offseason will bring? DeBrincat seems like a lock to stay, but what if general manager Kyle Davidson finds a team that offers the moon for him? Like he did with the Hagel trade, I’m sure he’ll be willing to listen. Strome has been actively shopped by the Blackhawks for a few seasons now. His recent production will only add to his value. And while Kane is saying all the right things about sticking around, will he truly have the stomach for a rebuild? Or will he chase another Cup with a different team?

Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Will Patrick Kane commit to the rebuild with the Chicago Blackhawks? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Chances are at least one of these dynamic players won’t be with the Blackhawks next season, so we might has well enjoy them while we can. I wonder if any of them will beat some of their career-best stats? Which leads me to my next section.  

Blackhawks’ Player Personal Bests

There are a number of players who are on the cusp of career high statistics. If nothing else, we can tune in to see who breaks their own records. Let’s take a look:

  • Kane had a career high of 66 assists in the 2018-19 season. He’s at 65 assists so far this season. Seeing as he has seven assists in the last seven games, this seems like a no-brainer to get done.
  • DeBrincat is sitting at 40 goals. He needs just two more to beat his personal best of 41 goals in the 2018-19 season. He’s already notched 36 assists for a career high, but one more point will also surpass the 76 points he earned in 2018-19 as well as so far this season.  
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat has a chance to beat a couple of personal bests this season with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
  • Strome has already surpassed his career high of 20 goals, as he currently holds 21 tallies. How many more might he add?
  • Lafferty notched six goals in his rookie season (2019-20) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He currently has five goals with the Blackhawks, meaning two more would exceed his career high. Now, the 27-year-old hasn’t scored since Mar. 28. It’s a long-shot, but it’s possible.

Related – Blackhawks’ Sam Lafferty Seamlessly Fitting Into Lineup

  • Moving on to defensemen, Seth Jones already has a career-high 45 assists in his first season with the Blackhawks. But like Strome, how many more will he add? Whatever he ends up with, this will be a measuring stick for him moving forward.
  • Jake McCabe has had a rough season defensively, but he’s stepped up his game offensively. His current four goals matches two other previous seasons. And his 17 assists equals his total from the 2016-17 season. The Wisconsin native is picking up a lot more ice time with fellow defenseman Connor Murphy in concussion protocol. So, these ambitions are certainly possible.  
  • Calvin de Haan is another defensemen that’s been contributing on the offensive end. While he’s not known for his offensive prowess, he did earn five goals in 2016-17 season. He currently has four goals with the Blackhawks this season. Again, it’s a longshot. But I’m certainly rooting for that fifth goal, and maybe more!
Calvin de Haan Chicago Blackhawks
Calvin de Haan has contributed more than expected offensively this season with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
  • Caleb Jones has taken advantage of his opportunities in Chicago. His nine assists is already a career high (five is his previous record). He’s also sitting on four goals, which ties his high from the 2019-20 season. Jones is currently part of an defensive rotation, so it’s unclear how many more games he will play. But I’ll bet he’s hungry for another goal to prove he should stay in Chicago.   
  • Finally, the Blackhawks are the only team in the league that don’t have a power play goal from a defenseman this season. Can they accomplish this? And if they do, will it be from S. Jones, Erik Gustafsson, or maybe even the rookie Regula?

So what do you think, Blackhawk’s fans?! Will you be watching the remaining games of the season for any of the reasons outlined above? What are some of your top reasons to watch? I’ll be watching along with you, so let’s try to have some fun with it.

Go Hawks!

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